By CAITLIN MURRAY
For the U.S. Women’s National Team, it’s hard to see any problems with a 8-0 dismantling of Mexico.
The Americans rained down goals on their opponent in Sandy, Utah on Saturday and it set the USWNT up nicely for next month’s World Cup qualifiers. After all, Mexico will be the strongest opponent for the U.S. in the CONCACAF qualifying tournament.
The USWNT is thinking long-term with an eye on the 2015 World Cup though, and the first 25 minutes or so of their crushing victory Saturday over Mexico may have showed some flashes of vulnerability.
The USWNT looked uncomfortable early in the friendly and struggled with poor touches and frequent turnovers. The Mexican squad, however, was its own worst enemy as the Americans’ first goals came from communication breakdowns by Mexico rather than build-up from the Americans.
Scoring opened on a Mexico own goal in the 11th minute. Alicia Garciamendez tried to clear the ball as Abby Wambach approached, but instead chipped it over her own goalkeeper for an own goal.
In the 36th minute with Mexico already down by two, Bianca Sierra couldn’t keep control in her own half as Alex Morgan rushed her and pounced on the loose ball. Morgan neatly chipped over goalkeeper Cecilia Santiago.
It was an uneventful match for Hope Solo in goal, but good enough for her to break the all-time USWNT shutout record with 73 clean sheets. Mexico seemed out of ideas on offense, taking optimistic long-range shots that proved to pose no threat to Solo.
Although U.S. Soccer issued a starting XI with players arranged in a 4-3-3, the USWNT appeared to revert to a 4-4-2, which they haven’t used as their primary formation since before coach Jill Ellis took over in April.
That formation, with Morgan and Wambach on top, had been a very successful one for coach Pia Sundhage during the previous World Cup/Olympics cycle — and the Morgan-Wambach pairing looked as potent in front of goal Saturday as it ever had.
The pair combined with each finding a brace and Morgan doing much of the difficult work of setting up her teammates throughout the night. Morgan had three assists on the night, including both of Wambach’s goals.
There’s no question the Americans were the better team on Saturday. As the hosts settled down by the second half and found their rhythm, the scoring continued — the goals just looked a lot better.
In the 57th minute, Christen Press, running along the right flank, drove a low cross into the box. Morgan was first in line to tap it into the net, but Wambach in the middle and Megan Rapinoe on the left also had their defenders beat and were open to tap it in.
A Lauren Holiday corner kick in the 71st minute sailed straight to second-half substitute Sydney Leroux’s head near post, who towered over the Mexican defense and knocked it back toward the far post.
Four minutes later, a nice passing sequence found second-half substitute Heather O’Reilly for the finish. At the top of the box, Lauren Holiday received a Tobin Heath back heel flick and slipped a through ball to Morgan, sprinting at goal. Morgan’s shot was knocked away by Santiago, but an open O’Reilly fired it back in, making it 8-0.
Santiago was pummeled in goal all night, but did end the day with a few strong saves to keep the score line from ballooning further. In the match’s dying minutes, she denied Morgan one-on-one with a diving slap.
The U.S. landed 10 shots on goal to Mexico’s one. The U.S. had a whopping 25 shots overall.
Although Mexico is hardly a potent threat, they will likely be the strongest team the USWNT will face next month in CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifiers. Canada, the archrival of the U.S., does not need to go through qualifiers as host.
Mexico has beaten the U.S. once in 30 meetings during World Cup qualifiers in 2010, forcing them into a second leg fight against Italy. The Americans did one better Saturday than they had the last time they faced Mexico in September 2013 in Washington D.C. There, the USWNT cruised past Las Tri, 7-0.
The CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers begin for the U.S. on Oct. 15 in a group with Trinidad & Tobago, Guatemala, and Haiti. But first, the U.S. faces Mexico for another friendly on Thursday in Rochester, N.Y.
Here are the match highlights: